“I wear the chain I forged in life,” replied the Ghost.  “I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it.  Is its pattern strange to you?”

-From A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Growing up a non-Christian and anti-consumerist in the U.S. my family’s attitude towards Christmas was Scrooge-like. Come to think of it, we didn’t celebrate anything. There were no birthdays to look forward to in our household. This stemmed from dad being somewhat of a hermit and not wanting people around the house except a few of his close friends once a year or so. I didn’t realise I was extroverted until I moved out of my parents’ house where I was perpetually restless.

In Australia where I met my extended family, thanks to my partner, Christmas has become a huge event. In the first seven years, I found it hugely overwhelming. Maybe I wasn’t an extrovert after all. There were always new faces and a year’s worth of catching up, eating and drinking to fit into one day. I hadn’t a clue on how to manage my energy so that my ears weren’t buzzing with the information, drink, food and gifts overload.

I felt a bit ungrateful for feeling so overwhelmed. So last year I decided that I’d build better relationships with the people I see at our Christmas table every year. I wanted to be drip-fed their news throughout the year so I wasn’t surprised by every little thing I missed out on.

Taking the time to build better relationships was the best investment I ever made (and not to brag but my share portfolio has gone up 97%). As a result, I’m blessed with the help and space to indulge in writing (hello there!) as there’s no shortage of babysitters to look after my girls when I start boiling with ideas bubbling to the surface, pushing their way out.

A Couple of Traditions are Born

As many of the boardroom decisions are made outside of the boardroom with members meeting and discussing their agendas in private, a new Christmas tradition was borne this year out of pre-planning. To be accurate, these new traditions were excellent ideas brought up during the year. It’s been my experience that the fate of excellent ideas is oftentimes still-birth. They don’t get the encouragement to be pushed out to see the light of day to entertain people.

The problem with our Christmas day was that the space of time between lunch and dinner always needed a board game to fill it.

But what game?

In my home country, Bingo is a new year’s eve tradition and given that it’s a Muslim country everything that’s associated with Christmas, like exchanging presents, Santa Claus and turkey dinners (no pork in Islam) happens on new year’s eve. I pushed for Bingo until it became clear that I’m not crazy enough for the game to try to find it in the shops and despite efforts by a friend it couldn’t be located, I declared it wasn’t kismet.

We played Articulate. A word guessing game which made it clear to me that my partner and I needed to spend more time together after we came second. Surely, if we spend more time talking we’ll leave everyone else in our dust.

The real winner this Christmas was the blind wine tasting. We had five bottles of red wines, four Shirazes and one Cab Sav, ranging in price from $4 – $270. Did the most expensive wine really taste the best?

Turns out price has nothing to do with how good wine tastes.

Riverside Landing, $4 at BWS turned out to be the best value receiving high ratings despite its one digit price tag. I was happy to see this as it confirms my worldview that price is nothing but a story. Something that costs 70 times more can never taste 70 times better. It’s a trick of marketing. I hope this little experiment gets us to strive for true value in the new year and ensure that where we spend time and money is in line with our unique personal values. Also, wine among friends is always sweeter, no matter how cheap it is, than creme de la creme offerings among people we can’t fully be ourselves with.

A huge amount of gratitude goes out to the two people who were instrumental in executing the blind wine tasting. The took the idea and the paper bags to cover the wine, developed the scorecards and voila! we had a professional blind wine tasting.

Of course, we will improve it next year with input from other attendees.

How to Change a Culture

This year’s Christmas was a lesson for me in how to take a good thing and make it better with more input from attendees. As mentioned, many of the decisions and idea development comes from talking with others, getting permission and acceptance beforehand and pushing the idea until it’s fully developed and executed.

This year I observed the quieter members of the table vocalize their Christmas traditions. Turns out the sixpence in the Christmas pudding is an old tradition going back to our hosts’ mother and perhaps even back a few more generations.

Who knows how long those sixpences we find in our pudding have been around?

It’s good luck to find one and lo and behold I found two in my pudding so cannot wait what to see what the new year will bring.

With a cultural change, all you need is an environment that’s open to it and I must say I don’t know a household more open to new ideas that our hosts’. Her Christmas tree is adorned with decorations from all over the world, some from countries I can’t even find on a map. The diversity of the Christmas tree decorations is echoed around the table with guests from all over the world.

The environment or the soil must be right but also the way the idea is introduced is important. You must plant the seed and then water it. You can’t for example, bring dumplings to a Christmas table out of the blue. You must get people used to the idea and show how dumplings are Christmas-y, otherwise, people will be like “what the heck? Dumplings aren’t a Christmas tradition…”

The magic of it though it, everything goes when it’s friends and family and not an actual boardroom.

The Gifts

Santa Claus made me a happy girl this year.

Honouring the feminine spirit is my resolution for the new year and I received gifts to make me beautiful inside and out.

I got a book on crystals (amethyst is mesmerizing), Jung archetypes (which reinforces the importance of the mother and the self-awareness I’d like to come into), a green journal, lemongrass soap (smells heavenly!), matcha tea and my favourite, the donation of a goat to a woman in Afghanistan.

To help my partner and I win Articulate next year we’ve got two date vouchers. We will have to use our time together to practice word associations (who knows, I may uncover some fascinating stuff about his psyche).

Over to you…

How did you make your Christmas table more diverse and inclusive this year? What are some things you’d like to improve for Christmas next year?

PS: A special thanks to Akin for sharing his gift for technology to fix up the internet outage.